The council is a selection of leaders from government, education, utilities, business and industry that meet bimonthly at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce to discuss development issues in those areas.
Thomas urged them to take an active role in the discussion because he said growth — planned or unplanned — is coming to Bradley County. It is estimated Bradley County will grow by an estimated 33,000 people, 14,000 new households and 19,000 new jobs by the year 2035.
Bradley County growth is part of larger trends and patterns identified as “megaregions.” The county is part of the “Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion” anchored by Atlanta. However, it stretches east to Raleigh, N.C., and west to Birmingham, Ala.
“It has fingers reaching out to Chattanooga and Nashville which take in Cleveland,” he said.
The low cost of living and high quality of life in the Southeast are but two of the reasons for this particular region’s booming population growth. As a result of that growth, the area is facing traffic congestion, runaway land consumption and inadequate infrastructure.
Between 2010 and 2050, the population growth in the megaregion’s principal cities of Atlanta, Birmingham, Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, N.C., is expected to increase from 17.611 million to 21.687 million in 2025 and 31.342 million by midcentury.
Thomas said people sometimes say there wouldn’t be growth if he quit planning and question why he plans for growth and encouraging all these people.
“If you look at what has happened in Bradley County since 1950, it is 172 percent growth, so it shouldn’t be a real surprise that we would add 33,000 people by 2035,” he said.
Passenger and freight transportation could be affected by patterns, locations of land uses, mode choices (walking, biking or public transit) and management of access and flow. The cumulative effects of transportation-related decisions by government have real public and private costs.
“Management of access and flow tend to work at cross purposes from one another. Everyone wants a driveway, but at the same time, if we accommodate that, the flow slows down on the corridor,” he said.
In addition to transportation, other facilities such as schools, utilities, police, fire parks and streets will be affected by choices about how growth is managed. Different land uses and land use patterns create different demands for facilities and services. Conversely, the amount, type and locations of facilities and services also affects land use trends. Growth and public policies together will affect conditions in housing, and economic development.
Thomas said good information is needed to support good decisions in order to compete effectively for more and better jobs, and protect and promote those things that contribute to a high quality of life. There are decisions to be made about roads, schools, other public facilities and services needed by residents, visitors, and employers. There are also decisions to be made about protecting the environment.
Thomas explained unplanned growth could lead to higher private costs in time delays, fuel consumption, productivity and quality of life, higher tax burdens and declining public services. Unplanned growth can result in a higher citizen tax burden and declining public services. For those reasons, Bradley County, Cleveland and Charleston are engaged in a comprehensive planning initiative called, BCC Comprehensive Plans.
The comprehensive plan is a more detailed planning process that emerged from the BCC 2035 Strategic Plan completed in 2010 and focuses on three specific areas: the urban core of Cleveland, a northern corridor generally around Mouse Creek northward from Paul Huff Parkway and including Charleston, and a southern corridor around Exit 20 and the McDonald area.
He said the BCC2035 Strategic Plan showed consensus for a more compact growth pattern because a continuation of current growth trends is likely to result in fiscal deficit; alternative approaches to growth are needed; patterns of growth make a substantial difference in the cost of services; and a more compact pattern is the cheapest.
Other consensus reached through the strategic planning process was that capital improvement plans, especially for schools, are of paramount importance. Other reasons the community favored a more focused growth pattern included diverse housing and transportation choices, community quality of life and preservation of rural and environmental resources.
He said five overriding guiding factors adhered to throughout the process are private property rights; low-tax environment; fiscal implications of choices; citizen-driven process; and balanced values in public decision-making.
In addition, the comprehensive plan needs to address things the community is willing to work toward. He said it is a local plan driven by local values and concerns, but it makes intelligent local application of information about behaviors and phenomena that happens here as they do in the region and beyond.
“These principles came out of the strategic planning process,” he said. “They basically focus on community values. The city and county will continue to face a fiscally constrained environment, most likely. The plan is to be citizen driven with a focus on private investment and market-based economy.
“Lastly, all of these things need to be balanced together as we proceed with the planning process.”
A status update of the BCC Comprehensive Plans will be presented to the Bradley County Commission and Cleveland City Council on June 18.